Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2023 March 27 • Monday

Thethe 771st Soundtrack of the Week, and wrapping up a month of jazz scores, is No Sun in Venice, composed by John Lewis and performed by the Modern Jazz Quartet.

First of all, let's hear it for the Turner painting on the cover!

The music begins with "The Golden Striker", which has Lewis and Milt Jackson braiding together piano and vibes while bassist Percy Heath plays a little bit with the bow before plucking the strings. Connie Kay on drums starts with an insistent and subtle, almost minimalist but intensely rhythmic bit of percussion. After a bit of this the band settles into a typically killing and swinging groove, making it apparent why MJQ was such a big freakin' deal.

Next is "One Never Knows", a quiet and gentle piece in which each of the four articulates every element of each musical idea with deft precision and taste. It starts with a celestial mood and ends as a more bluesy, late-night, earthy tune. The melody mostly belongs to Jackson but this is absolutely ensemble music.

"The Rose Truc" is very light but fast, sprightly and springing all over the place, with Jackson again taking the lead and everyone else leaving lots of space while giving him all the support. When Lewis comes in on piano, it's about as opposite of foreful as you can imagine but nonetheless the impact is huge. In his solo he be incredibly startling just with a single note, not by being loud but by being so exquisitely chosen and placed.

Side Two starts with "Cortege", with Jackson and Heath creating beautifully cloudy sort of mood while Kay gradually introduces a sunnier sound with triangle. Eventually all three dig in for a bluesier, slow but hard singing number. When Lewis comes in, the feel changes drastically, again, for a happier, lilting section before yet another unexpected but seamless transition to something more somber.

This is followed by "Venice", which is the most familiar-sounding piece on the record. It sounds like a standard but it isn't and maybe never became one either. If not, it should! The harmonic structure seens to be fairly straightforward and the tempo is relaxed and swaying, allowing for impressive and impressively effortless-sounding contributions from everyone.

Finally there's "Three Windows", an angular, "modern" sort of piece with, again, impeccable restraint and deliberation. It's hard to say who's the most amazing player here. I guess they all are. It's a very dry martini of a tune with everything always soundin inevitable and unexpected at the same time. It starts as what you might think is typically brainy West Coast jazz and then slips so easily into a swinging blues that by the time you've noticed, it's too late!

It's a superb record. I wonder if the movie's any good.